Stem Cells: Snow Retracts "Murder" Comment genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

On Meet the Press this past Sunday, Josh Bolton, White House Chief of Staff, struggled to answer the questions about the President's position on stem cell research. Bolton was obviously uncomfortable when attempting to finesse Bush's position, as previously stated by Press Secretary Tony Snow, that the destruction of frozen embryos is "Murder". In 2004, just before the presidential election George and Laura Bush were interviewed by Larry King. In that interview, Bush stated the following with regard to stem cell research and the use of human embryos.

G. BUSH: That's the big debate, Larry, and this country has got to be very careful on destroying life to save life. And it's a debate that needs to move forward in a very careful way. And I listen very carefully to ethicists who impressed me about being cautious and respecting human life, I guess, is the best way to put it. And that's one issue, embryonic stem cell.

G. BUSH: These are embryos that represent life and the fundamental question, as a society, is: Does society continue to take life, destroy life?

The following video is from Bolton's appearance on Meet the Press.

The Washington Post has a good article on the retraction offered by Tony Snow on Monday here. It was clear from the Bolton appearance that the White House would be unable to rationally explain the position taken with regard to the embryos which are the focal point in the debate. Note that Russert backed Bolton into a corner on why the President hasn't banned in-vitro fertilization clinics if he in fact believes that the destruction of an embryo is in fact "murder".

White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday that he "overstated the president's position" during a briefing last week but said Bush rejected the bill because "he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans."

The shifting terminology underscored the sensitivity of the issue, especially heading into midterm elections. Many antiabortion conservatives strongly oppose stem cell research involving the destruction of embryos, viewing it as killing human beings. But polls show that most Americans see such research as a potential key to treating Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other afflictions.

Supporters of the research said the shift reflects White House concerns that it is alienating mainstream Republicans. "What Tony Snow was doing was calling them all murderers, and that doesn't do much for close midterm elections," said Michael Manganiello, former president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.

In another segment of the interview, Russert challenged the Karl Rove assertion that adult stem cells have "far more promise" that embryonic stem cells. Russert's challenge highlights the distortions being offered by those on the right with regards to stem cell research. The reality is that adult stem cells have been the focus of research for a far longer period of time and while some of that research has been developed into treatments, it remains far more limited in its potential than embryonic stem cell research.

The often unspoken issue that underscores much of this embryonic stem cell debate is once again abortion. Those opposed to abortion see the easing of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research undermining their belief and assertion that human life begins at conception. If embryonic stem cell research were to be fully funded by the government, it would make it increasingly difficult to hold the strict definitional distinction that anti-abortion activists seek to advance.

The rationale of their argument seeks to define conception as the point at which human life begins which could then be argued to afford the embryo the same rights to protection as all other citizens. Clearly, they do seek to define the destruction of an embryo as murder which they see as the ultimate means to achieving the goal of making abortions illegal and overturning Roe v. Wade.

I find it interesting that the President felt that he needed to clarify his position. It points out that there is some realization that the majority of Americans do not agree that the use of frozen embryos, which are otherwise apt to be destroyed, is the same as murder. Further, it points out that he is concerned with how the issue will impact Republican candidates in the November election. Note the following statement from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a religious right advocacy group.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a group that opposes embryonic stem cell research, said he does not see much significance in the White House revision. "I'm not troubled by that at all," he said. "The president's actions speak louder than words."

The remark clearly points out that those who seek to make abortion illegal have a clear understanding of the basic legal arguments. The Bush veto holds open the legal line that opponents of abortion feel is essential to their efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and make all abortion illegal.

A cynic might even conclude that the entire situation, in which Snow made the assertion of murder only to follow it up with a retraction, may have actually been a fully orchestrated strategy. It has all the characteristics of a Karl Rove manipulation. It looks similar to President Bush's seemingly back and forth triangulation with regard to same-sex marriage in the lead up to the 2004 presidential election. He offered both a call for an amendment to the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman but then also suggested in an interview with Larry King that he had no problem with individual states providing same-sex couples with many of the same benefits and protections that come with marriage.

I've previously argued that the Rove strategy is to offer carefully tailored messages to the various voting constituencies in order to develop a majority coalition of voters. This stem cell issue looks like more of the same.

Daniel DiRito | July 25, 2006 | 7:54 AM
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